Although rain canceled many local outdoor events on Veterans Day this past Friday, one Kingsport event turned into a moving experience the next day on Saturday. The vehicles they were in, "moved" through the line at a Veterans Day lunch drive-through.
Dozens of veteran heroes and their families dodged the lingering raindrops to participate in a Veterans Day drive-through lunch. Those raindrops did not dampen the spirits of sponsors, who gathered at the V.O. Dobbins Head Start entrance with delicious meals to serve to the veteran heroes and their families who stopped by.
"Rain wasn't going to stop any of us from coming to this event," says Kingsport Army veteran and lunch attendee Jim Brice. "The sponsors and organizers go through a lot of work and preparation to put this gathering together. We appreciate them as much as they appreciate us." Veterans who couldn't make it, had their lunches delivered to them at home.
For two years, COVID had turned the in-person gathering on Veterans Day into a drive-through event. Organizers had hoped that veterans would be able to assemble in person this year, only to have rain forced the affair to become a vehicle-only gathering again.
"On a cold chilly day," said New Vision Youth group director Johnnie Mae Swagerty, "what tasted mighty good was chili beans, soup beans, cornbread, cole slaw, a Texas RoadHouse appetizer, and a special pumpkin spice cake donated by the Central Baptist Church Food Ministry. We were glad to honor the veterans on their special day, even though the weather did not want to cooperate much."
The menu did not escape the praises of many veterans in line. Larry Byington is a veteran of both the Army and the Air Force in Vietnam. He says he thinks of the chow lines during his military career, versus this Veterans Day line. "Absolutely no comparison," he laughs. "Those C-rations couldn't hold a candle to good ole homemade chili, cornbread and spice cakes. And the convenience... instead of a P-38 can opener out in the field, you flip this meal open and off you go."
"Hats off to the organizers and sponsors of the event," he says. "As a veteran, it makes me feel good to know that people appreciate all of our veterans. I'm proud of my service and it feels good to know that someone else is proud of it as well."
Animals who offer a lifetime of love and companionship to veterans were also welcomed at the drive-through. Zakraj, a 9-year old Shih Tzu, an oriental breed known for a calming, friendly temperament enjoyed the drive-through. His owner is Army veteran Gregory Watterson, who served in Germany.
Each veteran and their family also received a letter of appreciation from New Vision Youth members. Each was handwritten, thanking the veteran for their service. "Getting the letter was special," says Brice. "As a veteran, I really appreciate that. It makes me feel that my service meant something."
More than 70 veterans and their families stopped by the loading platform at the Head Start entrance on Wheatley Street on Saturday during off-and-on rain. Swagerty says in addition to Kingsport, they came from as far away as Erwin, Johnson City, Church Hill, Rogersville, Mt. Carmel and even Asheville, NC.
Attendees praised the family-like atmosphere of the event. "I stay in touch at least once or twice a week with five guys that I was stationed with in Vietnam," Byington says. "They are like my family. But with these people who give up their time to sponsor and hold events like this, it's almost like having an extended veteran family. They are very special, too."
The Veteran Heroes Day event was sponsored by the New Vision Youth, the Riverview Boys and Girls Club, Children of the Community, Kingsport Parks & Recreation, the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the South Central Kingsport Community Development Corporation, Texas Roadhouse and the Central Baptist Church Food Ministry.